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What kinds of questions should be on and off topic on Role-playing Games Stack Exchange?

This question is intended to help work through some of the concerns on the site regarding things being off topic, and the concept that anything can be on topic, provided its followed by "in an RPG".


For the purposes of this discussion lets specifically talk about off topic, as opposed to what makes for a subjective question, or a too localized question.

Please refer to the existing FAQ or other StackExchange materials when making your case.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't seen anything in the FAQ or other StackExchange materials that would be of help in this regard. Determining something off-topic is itself a subjective decision. For each user it's going to be a "I'll know it when I see it" kind of deal and those opinions, as has been seen, vary widely. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Edwards Jun 5 '11 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CEdwards That's why we're trying to explore the edge cases :) \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 7 '11 at 9:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's sort of my point. This question can only be answered, here, in a very vague manner. What matters in practice is the details of the particular question. The answers already given to the question require value judgments upon use that just take us back to the original question. I don't see how, in practice, this isn't something that should just be left to the voting system. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Edwards Jun 8 '11 at 5:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's an interesting comparison point. On programmers.SE, things that would apply to other professions equally are OT. meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/1697/… - just because "a programmer wants to know" is not on topic. "Uniquely about programming" is. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 11 '11 at 3:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ May I suggest people break up their multipart answers into single bits that can be clearly voted on? As a mod the below morass is pretty non-actionable. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 26 '11 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm... I think this question may be too broad to be usefully actionable. Voting to close. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Apr 14 '16 at 23:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Ha! It certainly is now, but questions like these are important to how the site develops its expectations and culture. Perhaps a historical lock would be in order @mxyzplk? \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Apr 14 '16 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross From memory only the first @-mention in a comment actually generates a notification. Or at least, that's the rumour I heard. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Apr 15 '16 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Good point, I was thinking about the good old days. :-) Flagged to request historical lock. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Apr 15 '16 at 1:42
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There are trivial answers to this. Minutia of the rules of board games, or the mechanics of computer games are off topic.

Where things get muddy is when RPGs intersect with other well-studied areas. Is physics off-topic? There are certainly game situations where knowing the solution to a physics problem is necessary. What about the details of a well-known fictional universe, or the mechanics of mid-twentieth century naval vessels?

I don't really have a comprehensive answer, but these are some things that strongly suggest a question may be off-topic to me:

  • The question excludes RPG-centric answers without cause. The ship plans question is the best example of this, even though it ultimately generated some good answers. It would be acceptable if a reason for the exclusion of RPG resources were elaborated on (needed for a prop, for example).

  • The question requires a level of detail well beyond what's needed for RPGs (without explicit reason). Formal mathematical proofs, precise explanations of the operation of machinery, and so on. Note that this is different from an amazingly detailed answer being provided and accepted.

  • The question has no discernible tie to RPGs, and none is provided in the post. Usually this will be theoretical scientific questions, philosophy, trade knowledge, or other bits of obscura not typically used during practical play.

Some examples of bullet point number two, as it seems to have been unclear. Using Perl as an example.

Clearly off topic questions:

  • How do I check the file system with Perl?

  • Should a newcomer to Perl learn both Perl 5 and 6?

Off topic, as they require a level of detail well beyond that used in RPGs.

On-topic questions:

  • What does Perl look like?

  • Can I use Perl to hack into a security system? (My character in game has the Perl specialization. Can Perl be used for this sort of task?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon The intersections are the crux of the issue. The problem I keep running into is how can we expect the experts here, who we rate and interest based on RPGs to be experts in Physics, Economics, etc; even if the question relates it well to the RPG? \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Jun 8 '11 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross I would say that part of being a master role player (or GM, or RPG author) is having a broad base of general knowledge related to the player's preferred games, knowing how to research new games, and knowing how to do "back of the envelope" calculations for a handful of mathematical disciplines (such as physics). If we are to be a site about RPGs in general, then the practical skills involved in running and playing the games should be appropriate. Alternatively, we could contract our mandate to "RPG theory, settings, and rules" to exclude this sort of thing. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 8 '11 at 12:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could see versions of the first point being legitimate questions from DMs looking for resources or advice on running ship-based games. \$\endgroup\$ – Allen Gould Jun 8 '11 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Allen Someone looking for advice or resources for ship-based games probably wouldn't say "[no] game-related material." That's the part of the question that makes it veer towards off-topic in my mind. Naturally, there are some situations where it COULD be on topic (for example, if the person was really looking to create a prop, or had need of an extreme level of detail)... But ideally such things should be spelled out in the question itself. As a show of good faith, if nothing else. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 8 '11 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ace Ah - missed that part. If a question want to exclude RPG materials, the onus would be on the question to explain why it's still relevant to RPGs (such as "prop" or "authenticity", both of which could be met by some RPG materials) \$\endgroup\$ – Allen Gould Jun 8 '11 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Allen Exactly. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 8 '11 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @C.Ross I do not think that we need experts in Physics in order to answer physics questions as it relates to an RPG. We need expert gamers to provide advice on how to provide verisimilitude as it pertains to physics within the game. So from my perspective a good questions/answers on physics, economics, etc. would be about the best ways to simulate reality within the game \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Weilnau Jun 9 '11 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't buy that. It makes everything on topic. If my Alternity character is a programmer I can ask Perl questions? Basic real world facts belong somewhere else; this should be about things particular to games, not questions someone happens to have tangentially related to their game. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 21 '11 at 3:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk It depends on the detail level of those questions. Most API questions or requests for source will be right out. For that matter, given the way RPGs typically treat programming, by the time your question gets into being about Perl specifically it's probably too detailed. Still, questions about what can be accomplished in Perl and the difficulty involved could be reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 21 '11 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon - no, they probably can't be. I understand you disagree, but if it's in a non gaming specific domain, IMO it doesn't belong here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 22 '11 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Please see my edit for examples of Perl questions which I would consider on-topic (and ones that I would consider off-topic). \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 22 '11 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Question: since this answer has the most votes, is it the Official Policy of RPG.SE? (Ace has claimed so.) And if so, then if a contrary opinion gains more votes, does the Official Policy then suddenly change? \$\endgroup\$ – ExTSR Jun 25 '11 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ExTSR No, votes do not necessarily make something official policy (especially when the number of participants is proportionately very, very low). It is valued input thereto, however. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 26 '11 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ExTSR Er, sorry if I was unclear. I didn't intend to imply that this was official policy. I simply wanted to respond to your post with this line of reasoning, and did not want to try to express the thought in a comment. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 27 '11 at 13:23
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  • Something that does not fundamentally draw on RPG expertise.
    • On topic: How high can a gnome with boots of levitation and a decanter of endless water in 3.5 actually fly, assuming that the decanter uses the water as reaction-mass. Even this is a borderline question, but given that I've actually calculated this... it's probably just inside the edge case.
    • Off topic: Substituting a goblin for Mu, the spherical physics cow. We don't need to know anything about the goblin to answer the question.

(Other bits moved to new answers)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not quite sure I see the distinction here. For my money, calculations involving friction, wind resistance, motion of a humanoid body, torque, and positioning of forces on a humanoid body are way beyond the level of detail necessary for an RPG. A calculation in which the goblin is a point of mass in a frictionless environment with the decanter at the precise center of mass is what I'd use at the table (or in prep)... \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 27 '11 at 13:31
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  • Asking many things about many systems
    • Off topic: my recent Q about "what tool-tropes exist in various RPGs?"
    • On topic: Single thing over one || many systems, depending on scope of interest
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure - though this is a reasonably straightforward "too broad" application, and not a RPG.SE specific ruling I'd reckon. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 27 '11 at 2:49
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As a separate answer, for clearer referendum.

Basic real-world things, that are not unique to a RPG, should not be on topic. This includes "what does a RL Denver accent sound like," "How far does a ball fly," and anything else not specifically related to RPGs.

On programmers.SE, things that would apply to other professions equally are OT. https://softwareengineering.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1697/is-a-question-always-off-topic-when-it-applies-to-other-professions-too - just because "a programmer wants to know" is not on topic. "Uniquely about programming" is.

Similarly, "a gamer wants to know" is not on topic. "Uniquely about gaming" is. Questions in another domain - physics, english, real world history - should be asked on those SEs or wherever else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Programmers is not a perfect fit, because they don't need to worry about balancing different tools. For example, they don't have to deal with issues comparable to people complaining about having too many questions about D&D 4e. Consider these questions: What's a Denver Accent Sound Like What does Deep Speech look/sound like. They are iterations of the same idea, but one is "uniquely about gaming" while the other is not. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 21 '11 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know this POV seems to make a certain kind of sense, but the reality is that if this view prevails, this site is really of no interest to me. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. If you think it's more important to embrace the SE ethos correctly than to be inclusive, then go ahead, but don't be surprised that the site is dominated by technical 4e questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Jun 22 '11 at 21:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a false dichotomy. Parenting.SE, for example, follows the SE formula but doesn't just have "technical questions." You can ask fluff questions - ABOUT GAMING. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 23 '11 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a false dichotomy because it's not the actual dichotomy, only a consequence of it. The actual dichotomy is between "questions useful to real-life roleplayers" and "questions that are clearly about nothing other than gaming". If you go the second route, you get a site that fits the SE ethos, but is ultimately of no use to me or many other gamers. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Hallett Jun 23 '11 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ C'est la vie. A site where everything useful to a real-life roleplayer is on topic exists and it's called "any RPG forum"; SE is designed to be a focused alternative to that. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 25 '11 at 1:49
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I think a simple rule of thumb would be: If you think it would get better answers/would be a more helpful question for a different SE site, it's off-topic for this one.

How can I simulate a world economy in D&D 4e and How can I fix the economics of D&D 3.5/AD&D would be nigh-impossible to get answered on the https://money.stackexchange.com/ site. The Question "How would a medieval lord make an investment" would struggle, but almost fit better on the other site.

The only clincher I see is if that SE site doesn't exist (yet). I think any question you can tie to an RPG situation would make it on-topic.

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Something that is not of interest to Players and Referees of a Role Playing Game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Too general - if we all like Big Macs, are Big Macs on topic? (Some apparently would say yes...) \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 25 '11 at 1:47
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Something that is not about role-playing games - playing them, creating them, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Too specific - we all like (or dislike) fantasy (or SF, Horror etc) novels (or films etc) that are the basis for our hobby, are they on topic? \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch Jun 27 '11 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand the comment. No, novels/films our hobby is based on are not on topic, I thought that was obvious. Those are not about the playing, creation, etc. of RPGs except in a very tangential way. There's probably room for one or two Q's about novels/films that are very, very closely tied to RPGs ("What movies have had depictions of people roleplaying in them?") but it's on the edge in general. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 27 '11 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/5087/… \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch Jun 27 '11 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2253/… \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch Jun 27 '11 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Second link fits with my exceptions, I personally don't like the first one but since it's for setting research, I reckon it might qualify too. Existence of a question that doesn't fit the answer doesn't disprove the answer, especially as we're talking about "what should we do..." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 27 '11 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is, mine many be Too General, but yours is Too Narrow. \$\endgroup\$ – David Allan Finch Jun 27 '11 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I appreciate the tit for tat arguing, it helps make this question useful. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 28 '11 at 5:16
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  • A question not appropriate for the system it was asked for.
    • On topic: How can I fix the economics of D&D 3.5/AD&D
    • OFf topic: How can I simulate a world economy in D&D 4e. (This is probably going to receive comments of "Don't." We should figure out if they're appropriate answers.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I strongly disagree with this point. Too many people have an opinion on what a given system "is good for." To me it's just like programmers on SO that have the same attitude about languages. Maybe the person only writes Perl/plays 4e and wants to try to accomplish X in it - those questions are on topic and answers not helping do that are off topic. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 27 '11 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is actually a huge pet peeve of mine, and something I disagree with strongly. Until they create the perfect all-encompassing RPG system it is inevitable that whichever system you choose will fail you somewhere along the line. Stretching a system to include a few out-of-scope areas is pretty common... A world economy in D&D 4e seems pretty doable. The problem there is the militant system-matters folks (and the people who vote them up), not the questions \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 27 '11 at 13:21

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